About Critical Incident Stress Debriefing

Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) is a process intended to prevent or limit the development of post-traumatic stress in people exposed to critical incidents. In CISD, professionally conducted debriefings attempt to help people cope with, and recover from an incident's aftereffects. CISD purportedly enables participants to understand that they are not alone in their reactions to a distressing event, and provides them with an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings in a controlled, safe environment.

Importantly, a Cochrane Review of 11 clinical trials found no evidence that debriefing reduced general psychological morbidity, depression, or anxiety. In one trial at one year follow-up there was a significantly increased risk of PTSD in those who received debriefing. The Cochrane team recommended that compulsory debriefing of victims of trauma should cease (Rose, Bisson, & Wessely, 2001).

While the debate over CISD continues, psychotherapists and victimology experts know about the potential damage of eliciting expression of deep psychological trauma prematurely or without appropriate follow-up and support.

Lee Ann Hoff, MSN, PhD Violence and Crisis Expert